Sandro Tavonatti, CEO,
SIGDO KOPPERS INGENIERÍA Y CONSTRUCCIÓN (SKIC)
"You have to think outside the box, developing projects with less people and more technology."
How has SKIC evolved in recent years to expand the scope of its business?
SKIC started evolving four years ago from a company of industrial assembly and construction into an EPC company. This coincided with how today our main clients prefer to focus on their core business and leave the day-to-day engineering, procurement and construction to contractors. An area we have been developing, for example, is maritime ports; we are now very proud to have important offshore projects with Collahuasi and Teck.
What have been some of the technical challenges working on large-scale projects such as QB2?
One of the biggest challenges has been overcoming the lack of qualified workforce, which is still an issue today, especially considering the altitude of projects such as Teck’s QB2 and Gold Fields’ Salares Norte. Underground mines, like Andina and Chuquicamata for Codelco, also pose challenges. For instance, besides the logistics and health support for all workers (we employ over 14,000 people), innovation is necessary because there are limitations in terms of capacity and social distancing at projects. It means you have to think outside the box, developing projects with less people and more technology.
Could you give an example of new technologies that are improving productivity and safety at mine sites?
We have been working on the development of robotics and AI with the support of other companies such as Godelius, which is part of the Sigdo Koppers group, with the aim of expediting diagnostics and analysis and reducing the exposure of people to risks. In terms of our innovation projects, we made an alliance with Boston Dynamics and we have incorporated their Spot dog robots in our operations.
Can you elaborate on SKIC’s collaborative approach with engineering and service companies?
Our decision to evolve into an EPC company immediately forced us to create alliances. Our focus is not to develop and set up a big tech company, but form strategic partnerships for the future. We work with Fluor Canada, Worley Parsons, Bechtel, and a number of smaller specialist companies. Beyond the technical issues, the first thing we evaluate is that we share the same values and can merge culturally.
How is the issue of water supply impacting the mining sector, and what work is SKIC doing in this area?
The water issue has stricken all of Chile. We have set the company to work early on every project for desalination and water pipes, and SKIC has worked on both the engineering and execution of several desalination projects. The extremes that we are facing have forced the mining sector to invest all of its know-how, because to tackle a crisis like this, we have to think not just as a company but as an industry. It is important to look outward and see how the world is finding solutions. This has represented a lot of travelling to learn diverse technologies, absorb different suppliers, and integrate them into this chain.
What is your outlook for brownfield and greenfield mining development in Chile?
I am optimistic because I see that, in the context of high commodity prices, mining investments will continue being long-term. Political headwinds are often more short term and therefore do not affect us so much. A number of projects have had studies to be fast-tracked, and there is a lot of brownfield work to adapt production processes to more sustainable methods, which is a trend we see continuing. The role of mining to produce the metals and minerals needed for sustainable energy will create a virtuous cycle, which is particularly relevant in countries such as Chile and Peru.
What is your strategy to consolidate SKIC’s position in the market in the years ahead?
The company has to go through these steps: demonstrating ethical work, professional excellence, being humble enough to acknowledge mistakes and being willing and able to solve them swiftly. Another point I must highlight is innovation, which is absolutely necessary. There is no development or consolidation of any company if innovation is not on the table. That also goes hand in hand with sustainability; innovation is necessary for desalination plants, but also when planning social projects to integrate communities and ensure environmental stewardship. From an HR standpoint, consolidation means not just hiring a person, but thinking about the development of their family and how it supports the industry, the country and the environment.